DETROIT — A teenager and two other men were charged today in the brutal beating of a 54-year-old suburban Detroit man after he accidentally hit a child who stepped off the curb into the path of his truck.
Police meanwhile credited a nurse with saving the life of Steve Utash by stepping between him and the half-dozen or more men who punched and kicked him after the April 2 accident on the northeast side of Detroit.
The incident left Utash, a tree-trimmer from Macomb County’s Clinton Township, with severe head injuries. He is in a medically induced coma.
Bruce Wimbush Jr., 17, Wonzey Saffold, 30, and James Davis, 24, have been charged with assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to commit great bodily harm. Wimbush and a 16-year-old boy were arrested Saturday.
Utash could have been killed if not for Deborah Hughes, a 56-year-old nurse who put herself between the mob and the downed man, according to Detroit police Sgt. Michael Woody.
“She is nothing less than a hero,” Woody told The Associated Press. “She basically kneeled and laid down with this guy to get them to stop hitting him. She essentially saved this guy’s life. They wouldn’t have stopped.”
Police Chief James Craig visited Hughes today to thank her, Woody said. The AP left a voicemail today at Hughes’ home.
Hughes told The Detroit News for a story today that she was watching from a window in her home when David Harris, 10, was hit by Utash’s truck. She ran outside to tend to the boy and that’s when the mob descended.
“(Utash) was screaming, and they were beating him, and kicking him,” Hughes told the newspaper. “I said ‘Please don’t hit him anymore,’ and they backed up. Everybody cleared the way and gave me room to work on him.”
David Harris was treated for leg and other injuries.
A not-guilty plea was entered today for Wimbush at his video arraignment in 36th District Court.
Requesting a low bond, defense attorney Randall Upshaw told the court Wimbush had a minor role in the attack and pointed out that he has never given his parents any problems.
Magistrate Millicent Sherman set bond at $500,000.
A couple who identified themselves as Wimbush’s parents declined to comment.
Saffold and Davis were also expected to be arraigned today. The 16-year-old was being held in the county’s juvenile detention center but has not been charged, according to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. He faces a hearing Saturday.
Investigators were trying to determine if the attack was racially motivated. Utash is white. Members of the mob are black.
Detroit is more than 80 percent black. The city and its mostly white suburbs have had a long history of racial strife.
“I have full confidence that the Detroit Police Department and Wayne County prosecutor’s office will conduct a comprehensive investigation to resolve this deeply troubling case and determine whether state or federal hate crime laws are implicated by the incident,” longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers said Monday in a statement.
A fundraising campaign on the gofundme.com webpage to pay for Utash’s medical expenses had raised nearly $135,000 by today. A goal of $50,000 had been set.